What is a Functional Planner and Why You Need One
Functional planning can be a game-changer for anyone looking to improve how they organise their life and get stuff done, but what exactly is it and how can it benefit you?
In today’s hurried world, with it’s constant demands on my attention and time, it can be hard for me to stay focused and get things done, this is where my functional planner setup comes in.
But first, let me take you back a few years…
The Stress of Mental Overload
In the dark days, before I had structure in the form of functional planning, it was difficult for me to track and prioritise my tasks. And as for goals to head towards, well, I really didn’t have any because they lived as dreams in my head.
This lead me down a path of procrastination and increased stress owing to the mental load of keeping everything in my head or having it scattered all over the place in notebooks and on stickie notes. It makes me feel frazzled just thinking about how I was trying to juggle everything in such a haphazard way.
Pair that with the frustration of constantly feeling like I was being left behind due to the lack of a structured schedule, and the anxiety of not knowing where to start with my endless to-do lists that were all over the place, it was a recipe for a stressed-out, shouty mummy.
But it’s only when you get to the bottom that you can start to build a foundation…
It was from that hyper-frazzled and discouraged state that I decided I had to find a solution. I started to wonder what my life would look like if I was able to become more organised and improve my productivity?
And although I didn’t nail it straight outta the gate (I had 3 years of painful planner fails), I also didn’t give up and eventually found my happy place in a functional planner.
Finding my version of planner peace not only increased my confidence and motivation, but also gave me a greater sense of purpose which is why I create content sharing my journey.
So now you know why functional planning was a turning point let’s get to the what…
What is Functional Planning
Functional planning is a method of using a paper based planner to improve productivity and organization. This is a place for keeping track of appointments, doing future planning and setting goals. It’s also a place where you can break down tasks into manageable steps and schedule time to complete them.
By using a functional planner I’m able to stay on track with my goals, manage my time more effectively, and most importantly, reduce my stress levels.
What I love about my paper planning system is the fact that it’s a tactile, hands-on approach to planning and getting things done. For me digital planning tends to put things out of sight and therefore out of mind, although I do appreciate the alarms and notifications aspect of using a digital planner that’s linked to my mobile device.
However, writing down tasks and goals in a paper planner is still the winner because it helps to solidify them in my mind and make them more concrete.
How a Functional Planner Can Transform Your Life
And if that hasn’t convinced you that writing things down in a paper planner isn’t as archaic as it may seem, then perhaps this article written in 2021 by Christopher Bergland in Psychology Today will.
In his peer reviewed article titled 4 Reasons Writing Things Down on Paper Still Reigns Supreme, Bergland notes:
In addition to being faster and more accurate, the fMRI neuroimaging data from [the] "paper notebooks vs. mobile devices" study suggest that the act of physically writing things down on paper is associated with more robust brain activation in multiple areas and better memory recall.
The bottom-line is that by putting pen to paper you can boost brain activity and optimise your memory, which can be life-changing!
The Perks of Not Going Paper Free
Companies seem to always push me to go ‘paper-free’ - paper-free billing, online banking, see the website instead of peruse a physical catalogue, go digital. And yes, it is better for the environment because it reduces needless waste, shipping, etc.
But I love how a paper planner feels in my hands, as well as giving me more flexibility and customization because I can easily add and rearrange pages or sections to suit my needs.
Plus, it provides a break from screens, which is beneficial to my mental health and productivity.
Struggling to get your paper planning system to work for you?
For the month of May 2023 you can join me for a FREE 30 minute brainstorming session, where we'll discuss strategies for getting the most out of your planner and improving your productivity. Spaces are limited, book now.
What makes for a great functional planner setup?
A great functional planner setup involves several components that work together to create a system that is both productive and enjoyable.
Firstly, you’ll need to choose the right planner for you. I’ve opted for a ‘rings’ based binder style planner so I can easily add or remove pages, re-arrange sections and incorporate special inserts for tracking habits or planning projects.
Next you’ll need to decide the format for your scheduling pages: are you a week on 2 pages type of person, do you need a daily agenda, how do you want your monthly calendar - as a grid of boxes or a list of dates? This is why a ring binder style planner works so well because you can test out different types of inserts and layouts to see what makes the most sense for you.
The key components of a great functional planner setup:
Scheduling appointments and tasks. This could be a daily diary, weekly agenda, monthly calendar, year at a glance, or a combination.
Clearly defined goals and priorities. This could be done on note paper added to the planner or specific planner inserts designed to guide you.
Breaking down tasks into manageable steps. Lined or grided note paper is good for this but inserts specifically for planning goals can really help streamline the process.
Scheduling time to complete those steps. This is where the daily, weekly, and/or monthly schedule is required.
Tracking progress with the use of planner insert pages for tracking goals, budgets, habits or health.
Regular reflection and adjustments to the planner setup. My top tip here is don’t be afraid to experiment with different planner inserts!
Use of visual cues, such as colour coding with highlighters to prioritise tasks. I’ve also experimented with using mini icon stickers as visual cues for different tasks in the form of icons for meetings, food shopping, home maintenance, etc. that I can easily stick on to my planner pages.
By incorporating these elements into your functional planner setup, you can create a system that is tailored to your unique needs and focused on organisation.
But how can you make it enjoyable and engaging?
Bringing Beauty to Your Productivity.
The use of decoration within the planning community has been a big business over the past few years. With the use of decorative stickers, magnetic and clip-on charms, ornamental pages known as ‘dashboards’, and luxury leather planner covers. There are lots of ways you can beautify your planner.
And while the bedrock of functional planning is productivity and organisation, there's no reason why you can't make your planner more enjoyable and engaging with the use of decoration. However, my recommendation is to prioritise functionality and avoid using excessive decoration that needlessly bulks up your planner and interferes with its usability.
Planning with Chloe is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
With a little thought and experimentation, a functional planner can be a powerful tool to help you stay accountable for achieving your goals and tracking your tasks, as well as improving your productivity and mental health.
Top 3 Take Aways for Functional Paper Planning:
Think about what you need your planner to do for you in terms of the areas of life you need to keep organised. Then test out planners or inserts that can help you manage those areas.
Don’t be afraid switch things out if they’re not working for you or to try something new.
And add some flourishing touches with the use of decoration to make your planner a joy to look at and use.
If you want some more inspiration then check out this article on How to Create a Functional Planner or view the inserts I use in my Functional Planner Setup
Until next time Planner Friend, let’s work towards a functional planning system for a better life without toxic productivity!